SYMPOSIUM SCHOOLWORK FINANCIAL AID REGISTERING FOR CLASSES AAAAHHHHHH!
AND I’M 4 DAYS BEHIND ON THIS WEEK’S POST!
But it’s okay, because I have John Green to keep me calm and composed and remembering what’s really important in life: being pretentious.
And you know what’s even better? This chapter is so long, and so terrible, that I need to break it into thirds. That’s right: this’ll be my first-ever 3-PART CHAPTER!
Oh man, there aren’t enough gifs in the world to save me. I could’ve blown this off and played Town of Salem for a few hours, guys. Maybe I could’ve afford the sweet rock-splatting-onto-you death. (P.S. If any of you play that, I’m cayaway. Friend me; I’ll need the comfort after reading this garbage.)
But no, I’m here. Because I love you. And hate myself.
Ugh, where did we even leave off last week? Right, they’re at Author Von Asshole’s house and for some reason he hasn’t called the cops to get these total strangers off his property and arrest his assistant for taking advantage of an old man in order to steal his money. Good times.
So Sunshine keeps trying to ask about the book, but Houten absolutely refuses to listen to a word she says, rambling on about philosophers and Swedish rap. It’d be really annoying if I didn’t suspect that he’s doing it just to get her to leave.
“Lidewij, play ‘Bomfalleralla’ immediately.” Lidewij walked over to an MP3 player, spun the wheel a bit, then hit a button. A rap song boomed from every direction. It sounded like a fairly regular rap song, except the words were in Swedish.
After it was over, Peter Van Houten looked at us expectantly, his little eyes as wide as they could get. “Yeah?” he asked.
I said, “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t speak Swedish.”
“Well, of course you don’t. Neither do I. Who the hell speaks Swedish? The important thing is not whatever nonsense the voices are saying, but what the voices are feeling. Surely you know that there are only two emotions, love and fear, and that Afasi och Filthy navigate between them with the kind of facility that one simply does not find in hip-hop music outside of Sweden. Shall I play it for you again?”
This is how I’m going to respond to door-to-door salesmen from now on.
So Gus gets pissed and asks if this is some kind of joke, which of course it is; he’s obviously trying to make you leave as quickly as possible without breaking out his squirt gun. (On second thought, I desperately want to see him squirt-gun Gus in the face. Where’s fanart when you need it?)
Well, apparently Houten’s also trying to teach them an important lesson or something:
“Rudolf Otto said that if you had not encountered the numinous, if you have not experienced a nonrational encounter with the mysterium tremendum, then his work was not for you. And I say to you, young friends, that if you cannot hear Afasi och Filthy’s bravadic response to fear, then my work is not for you.”
I cannot emphasize this enough: It was a completely normal rap song, except in Swedish.
Sunshine is implying here that rap cannot have deep emotions.
Unfortunately not, because she immediately steamrolls over any point he tried to make to get her questions answered:
“Um,” I said. “So about An Imperial Affliction. Anna’s mom, when the book ends, is about to—”
Girl, you traveled all the way to Amsterdam to talk to your favorite author. I know you want to hear the answers to your dumb questions, but I can’t believe you aren’t at all interested in small talk or anything. If I met my favorite whatever I’d spend an hour asking their opinions on books, music, this weeks’ episode of Rupaul’s Drag Race (fair but a shame, in case you were curious) . . . everything. You’re in the presence of what you consider genius. Why don’t you want to soak some of that up?
Or if you literally care about nothing but getting your stupid answers, humor the old fart so he’ll be in a good enough mood to tell you. You’re already on his shit list just by showing up, and you’re not making it any easier for him to like you.
So he just keeps talking about random nonsense because I’m pretty sure he’s as done with this book as I am, and she continues to try and ask him her questions. It’s a little remarkable how determined they both are to ignore what the other’s saying in their single-minded desperation to “win” this silly battle of wills.
But I guess he realizes they’re not going to get off his lawn, so he decides to respond:
“We were wondering, after the end of An Imperial Affliction —”
“I disavow everything in that putrid novel,” Van Houten said, cutting me off.
At least he realizes it sucks, too. It’s okay, honey, I’ve written embarrassing fanfiction. We all have skeletons in our closets.
“No,” I said.
“No, that is not acceptable,” I said. “I understand that the story ends midnarrative because Anna dies or becomes too sick to continue, but you said you would tell us what happens to everybody, and that’s why we’re here, and we, I need you to tell me.”
Van Houten sighed. After another drink, he said, “Very well. Whose story do you seek?”
I love how he just gives up. You can see the decision happening in these lines, and it’s absolutely hilarious.
“Anna’s mom, the Dutch Tulip Man, Sisyphus the Hamster, I mean, just—what happens to everyone.”
Van Houten closed his eyes and puffed his cheeks as he exhaled, then looked up at the exposed wooden beams crisscrossing the ceiling. “The hamster,” he said after a while. “The hamster gets adopted by Christine”—who was one of Anna’s presickness friends. That made sense. Christine and Anna played with Sisyphus in a few scenes. “He is adopted by Christine and lives for a couple years after the end of the novel and dies peacefully in his hamster sleep.”
Obviously he realizes just how stupid this exercise is, and wants to get it over with as soon as possible. I applaud that.
But Sunshine is apparently really dense, because she doesn’t see that he’s phoning these answers in:
Now we were getting somewhere. “Great,” I said. “Great. Okay, so the Dutch Tulip Man. Is he a con man? Do he and Anna’s mom get married?”
Van Houten was still staring at the ceiling beams. He took a drink. The glass was almost empty again. “Lidewij, I can’t do it. I can’t. I can’t.” He leveled his gaze to me. “Nothing happens to the Dutch Tulip Man. He isn’t a con man or not a con man; he’s God. He’s an obvious and unambiguous metaphorical representation of God, and asking what becomes of him is the intellectual equivalent of asking what becomes of the disembodied eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg in Gatsby. Do he and Anna’s mom get married? We are speaking of a novel, dear child, not some historical enterprise.”
“Right, but surely you must have thought about what happens to them, I mean as characters, I mean independent of their metaphorical meanings or whatever.”
“They’re fictions,” he said, tapping his glass again. “Nothing happens to them.”
Not only do I agree with him, because . . . well, duh, it’s a book and these people aren’t real, but this is actually pretty well-written. It’s the first time I’ve read his philosophy and not found it super pretentious and annoying. Probably because he’s talking about literary theory, which is the most interesting thing in the world.
But Sunshine is displeased with that answer, and with the stupid childishness of someone who takes a “come see me sometime if you’re in town” as an invitation to fly overseas for that explicit reason, she insists on getting her answers:
“You said you’d tell me,” I insisted. I reminded myself to be assertive. I needed to keep his addled attention on my questions.
There’s a difference between “addled” and “not interested in playing your dumb game,” sweetheart.
“Perhaps, but I was under the misguided impression that you were incapable of transatlantic travel. I was trying . . . to provide you some comfort, I suppose, which I should know better than to attempt. But to be perfectly frank, this childish idea that the author of a novel has some special insight into the characters in the novel . . . it’s ridiculous. That novel was composed of scratches on a page, dear. The characters inhabiting it have no life outside of those scratches. What happened to them? They all ceased to exist the moment the novel ended.”
I know we’re supposed to dislike him, but I’m realizing more and more how unreasonable and borderline unhinged Sunshine is. The fact that he has to explain this to a seventeen-year-old girl, who will be able to decide the fate of our elections in a matter of months, that the characters aren’t real and nothing happens to them after the book ends, is kinda sad.
Green either has his teenagers talking like robots programmed for maximum pretentiousness or acting like spoiled children. It’s almost offensive to teens, and makes me wonder once again if Green’s ever met one.
“No,” I said. I pushed myself up off the couch. “No, I understand that, but it’s impossible not to imagine a future for them. You are the most qualified person to imagine that future. Something happened to Anna’s mother. She either got married or didn’t. She either moved to Holland with the Dutch Tulip Man or didn’t. She either had more kids or didn’t. I need to know what happens to her.”
Did that really warrant a “rise to your feet” moment, Green? It’s no “Give me Liberty or give me death,” is all I’m saying.
Besides, Houten’s really no more qualified to imagine that future than a reader is. He put everything about them on the page — if he was withholding information key to understanding their character or likely decisions, he’d be an even worse author than we’d thought — so you have the exact same amount of information, and can synthesize it into an equally likely potential ending.
This is what fanfiction is for, Sunshine. Sometimes I think all this girl needed was a better internet connection.
Van Houten pursed his lips. “I regret that I cannot indulge your childish whims, but I refuse to pity you in the manner to which you are well accustomed.”
“I don’t want your pity,” I said.
“Like all sick children,” he answered dispassionately, “you say you don’t want pity, but your very existence depends upon it.”
Uh . . .
“Sick children inevitably become arrested: You are fated to live out your days as the child you were when diagnosed, the child who believes there is life after a novel ends. And we, as adults, we pity this, so we pay for your treatments, for your oxygen machines. We give you food and water though you are unlikely to live long enough—”
“PETER!” Lidewij shouted.
“You are a side effect,” Van Houten continued, “of an evolutionary process that cares little for individual lives. You are a failed experiment in mutation.”
Come on, dude, I liked you. Don’t go all sociopathic douchebag on me now.
Well, Sunshine doesn’t seem overly upset by this because of angst or something, and is prepared to walk out once Houten does one small thing for her:
“WHAT HAPPENS TO ANNA’S MOTHER?”
He raised his flabby chins vaguely toward me and shrugged his shoulders. “I can no more tell you what happens to her than I can tell you what becomes of Proust’s Narrator or Holden Caulfield’s sister or Huckleberry Finn after he lights out for the territories.”
“BULLSHIT! That’s bullshit. Just tell me! Make something up!”
Okay, what’s the difference between him making something up and you making something up? They’d both be equally fake — or equally valid, depending on whether or not you subscribe to Reader’s Response theory.
Anyway, that answer doesn’t satisfy Sunshine, so I guess she’s going to yell at him and lea —
I still wasn’t angry, exactly, but I was very focused on getting the thing I’d been promised. Something inside me welled up and I reached down and smacked the swollen hand that held the glass of Scotch. What remained of the Scotch splashed across the vast expanse of his face, the glass bouncing off his nose and then spinning balletically through the air, landing with a shattering crash on the ancient hardwood floors.
I’m pretty sure that counts as assault. Destruction of personal property at the very least. Why aren’t we calling the police on this psychopath?
Like, I’m genuinely horrified. There is no amount of suspension-of-disbelief in the world that justifies this reaction. Screaming, wailing, physically attacking him because you feel owed something he never really promised you . . . this is not normal behavior, and I’m a little concerned we’re meant to see it as relatable.
Anyway, Gus drags her out of there before she attempts to strangle him or something, and they have a cute moment, whatever, who cares. Lid comes out and takes them to the Anne Frank House, because she’s quit her job. Apparently Houten’s behavior was just too disgusting to tolerate.
“I have continued this work because I believe he is a genius and because the pay is very good, but he has become a monster.”
Yeah, he was the monstrous one, all right. The screaming, violent baby with a tenuous grasp of reality was totally understandable and worth losing your job over.
I should end soon, because there’s no way we can cover all of the wrong that is the Anne Frank House, but let’s at least get them upstairs if we can:
We began in a room with a video about Jews in Holland and the Nazi invasion and the Frank family. Then we walked upstairs into the canal house where Otto Frank’s business had been. The stairs were slow, for me and Augustus both, but I felt strong. Soon I was staring at the famous bookcase that had hid Anne Frank, her family, and four others. The bookcase was half open, and behind it was an even steeper set of stairs, only wide enough for one person. There were fellow visitors all around us, and I didn’t want to hold up the procession, but Lidewij said, “If everyone could be patient, please,” and I began the walk up, Lidewij carrying the cart behind me, Gus behind her.
You know what I love about this paragraph? The fact that her only emotional responses are in thinking about herself and how others are perceiving her. You’d think that being in a goddamn Holocaust memorial would give her a bit of perspective on the nature of suffering and strength, but nope. It’s all Sunshine, all the time.
If you’re not going to emotionally react to the Anne Frank House, why bother going to the Anne Frank House?
So despite the fact that walking up these stairs will basically kill her, she decides to do it because . . . well . . .
It’s stupid, but I kept thinking I owed it to her—to Anne Frank, I mean—because she was dead and I wasn’t, because she had stayed quiet and kept the blinds drawn and done everything right and still died, and so I should go up the steps and see the rest of the world she’d lived in those years before the Gestapo came.
You’re right: that is stupid. “I’m gonna kill myself because she was murdered by Nazis! We’re the same and totally deserve equal amounts of sympathy and admiration!”
Besides, once you get up there you’re not going to spare a thought about the Gestapo or anything else that isn’t related to you.
Well, she finally makes it to the top of the stairs:
The blackness encroached around my field of vision as I pulled myself up, eighteen steps, steep as hell. I finally crested the staircase mostly blind and nauseated, the muscles in my arms and legs screaming for oxygen. I slumped seated against a wall, heaving watered-down coughs. There was an empty glass case bolted to the wall above me and I stared up through it to the ceiling and tried not to pass out.
This is probably why your mom should’ve come with you, huh? To prevent little incidents like this, or at least know how to deal with them? I kinda think that was the entire reason you were allowed to go on this trip to begin with, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why she keeps disappearing so you can have stupid “romantic” interactions with Gus at the risk of your life.
No, we’re done. We’re at almost 3000 words and haven’t reached the worst part of this chapter yet. I must stop.
See you next time, lovelies. It won’t be pretty.